Friday, February 1, 2013

The Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and My Muse

(photo property of Linda Rettstatt)

            Many of us had imaginary friends in our childhood. For all I know, some of us still carry those friends into adulthood. In our culture, we’re taught to embrace the notion of a Tooth Fairy who, though can’t be seen, rewards us for lost teeth. The Easter Bunny magically delivers brightly colored eggs and candy, some of it in the very same shape of himself. In many cultures Santa Claus is represented under various names as the bearer of gifts at Christmas and even given the power to know if we’ve been bad or good. As I child, I welcomed these invisible friends and relished in the gifts they bestowed upon me. But, sadly, we grow up and have to let these friends go. Or do we?
            As a writer, it is perfectly acceptable for me to have a new imaginary friend—my muse. For centuries the Muse has been credited for the inspiration behind great and lesser known artists and writers. If you ask ten writers about their muse, you’ll likely get ten different descriptions. For some the muse is embodied by a pet or other animal that inspires or amuses. My own muse is as vague and undefined as my childhood imaginary friend. There—but not there. I personally believe that the muse is a deeper manifestation of my own passion and talent. My muse is less afraid to break through boundaries, defy rules, ask the deeper ‘what if’ questions and push me to write beyond where I might think I should stop. Likewise, the muse serves to take the blame when we writers hit a wall, feel blocked or unsure of what words to lay down next. How many times have I heard a writer say, “My muse took an unplanned vacation.”
            One definition I found of a muse (and I paraphrase) says that the muse is something that stirs our creative passion and nudges our creative spirit to create. On one had, the muse is nothing more than a figment of our imagination. On the other hand, the muse becomes very real and is vital in opening us up to new creative possibilities. Kind of like the Tooth Fairy, huh?
            In Greek mythology, the muse was considered the Goddess of Art and presided over the creative arts as one of the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (the goddess of memory). That got me to thinking about the possible connection between the role of the muse in creating and the muse’s heritage in relation to memory. Are we writers creating something new from some ancient, inherent memory that lives in our souls, our spirits? Well, that got a little heavy.
            Eons ago (or so it seems), I worked as a clinical social worker doing psychotherapy. I had to listen intently and to ask the deeper questions my clients might not be asking of themselves. I have to wonder if my muse is really some manifestation of myself—nudging me to look deeply into the emotional and psychological aspects of the character. I question this because I see in my own writing that conflict is often more of an internal nature than the tangible, external conflicts characters might face.
            I’ve decided that the muse is different for every writer largely because each person and his or her life experiences are different. That the muse is born out of the writer’s (or artist’s, or musician’s) own history, talent, and desires. In a way, he or she is that freer part of our imagination that pushes the boundaries and refuses to let self-doubt or rules or rejection stop us. The muse lives to tell the story, to show us our own heart’s desire and raise the ‘what if’ questions that lie at the heart of our creativity.

   Linda Rettstatt
   Writing for Women - Stories of strength, love, humor and hope.



Big Mike said...

My son's imaginary friend (the "man") got him in trouble. One night with the babysitter he keep staring out the window talking about the "man" hiding behind the trees. Freaked out the young girl and she called the cops. After that we made him rename his buddy "Jeremiah" figuring no one would misinterpret that friend.

Ref my Muse, she's a Gothic seductive little thing (consider the image of Elvira).

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

linda_rettstatt said...

That's funny, Mike. I'm grateful for cell phones and that everyone walks and drives around talking out loud to empty air now. I like to drive and talk a story line out with my muse. At least people don't shake their heads at me anymore.

Rhobin Lee Courtright said...

Interesting Linda. I too think muses are part of our inner selves, perhaps alternative personalities. Mine all all P-Oed at me right now, which results in some unusual writing.

Nikki said...

I never used to personify my muse. It was always that force inside me that made my fingers itch to write, compose, or stitch. Then one day when I hit a dry stretch, my husband, that wise man, suggested, "Go talk to Irish." My beloved buckskin mare, long gone to horse heaven. She's strong, warm, wise, independent, free-spirited. And like any horse, she'll wander off when it pleases her. It does no good to chase after her, but if I sit quietly, sooner or later she'll come and nudge me.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Horses inspire me, too, Nikki, and when all else fails there is music; anything by Gerswin or the music from Slaughter on Tenth Avenue can make the juices flow.

linda_rettstatt said...

Whether the muse is something internal or takes the shape of some other manifestation, we writers learn to listen acutely to him, her or it for inspiration. I chose the photo of the panda, not because that's the manifestation of my own muse, but because I thought in general it embodies the muse--playful, fierce, and a little wild at times.